Private Alexander Johnston, a Canadian soldier killed in the waning days of World War I, was laid to rest Tuesday in France while his great grand-niece played Last Post.
The remains of Johnson, who was 33 when he was killed during the Battle of the Canal du Nord on Sept. 29, 1918, in northern France, were identified last spring.
Among those in attendance at Cantimpre Canadian Cemetery in Sailly-lez-Cambrai were Marc Lortie, Canadian Ambassador to France, French dignitaries, a Canadian Forces contingent and members of Johnston’s family, including his great grand-niece, Corporal Ann Gregory, a Canadian Forces Reservist and trumpeter with the Governor General’s Foot Guards.
In July 2008, human remains were discovered in Sailly-lez-Cambrai, along with two collar badges of the 78th Battalion (Winnipeg Grenadiers). The Directorate of History and Heritage was notified of the discovery in February 2009, and Private Johnston’s remains were identified through mitochondrial DNA testing on March 31, 2011, according to the Canadian Department of National Defence.
“After all these years, we are finally able to commemorate and pay tribute to this great Canadian hero who made the ultimate sacrifice in the service of his country,” said Peter MacKay, Minister of National Defence. “By honoring Private Johnston today, we ensure that his courage and personal contribution in ending the Great War will never be forgotten.”
Private Alexander Johnston joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force on Jan. 5, 1918, and took up with the 78th Battalion in the field on Sept. 4, 1918.
He died less than a month later during the Battle of the Canal du Nord, part of a general Allied offensive against German positions on the Western Front during the Hundred Days Offensive. During the battle, the area of Raillencourt-Sailly was taken by the 4th Canadian Division near the end of September and beginning of October 1918.
The 78th Batallion’s goal was to take the villages of Sailly and Raillencourt, following the fight to capture the line along the Douai-Cambrai Road. After crossing the Douai-Cambrai Road, the battalion came under heavy machine gun fire and Johnston was killed during this time, according to the Canadian Department of National Defence.
The 33-year-old native of Scotland was just one of thousands of Canadian casualties during the battle.
“Private Alexander Johnston paid the ultimate price for our country and it is gratifying that we can now properly lay him to rest,” said Steven Blaney, Minister of Veterans Affairs.
(Above: Corporal Ann Gregory, the great-grand niece of Private Alexander Johnston, killed in France during World War I played Last Post at his interment in France Tuesday. Photo from Montreal Gazette.)